College demographic committed, unwilling to vote

Travis Perry

This election year, politicians focused on their key demographics by addressing some key issues, such as Medicare, border security and education, just to name a few. However, lost once again are the issues of the forgotten demographic, the 18- to 24-year-old.

In recent years politicians have failed to market themselves toward the college-age voting crowd because of a lack of interest in the political field. The low voting numbers are a cause for concern but are not necessarily a sign of apathy from this demographic when it comes to caring about the community they live in.

“It’s not that they’re an uncommitted generation,” said Rick Ellis, director of human services at Washburn. “They want to make a direct impact, and they don’t feel the polling place is where it’s going to happen.”

Ellis continued by saying he believed this voter apathy was a form of self-imposed disenfranchisement from the government, as they don’t really see a reason to vote. Also, college students just aren’t knowledgeable enough about issues because of a lack in discussion on them.

“Nobody has said anything about [these issues], so college students haven’t zoned-in on it,” said Ellis.

Many students choose not to vote, because they don’t feel they have a great choice between politicians or that the beliefs of both major parties simply do not resonate with them, said Ellis.

Involved with the Learning in the Community office and the Bonner Leaders, Ellis and his crew led a national initiative to register a large portion of college students using a variety of methods. Their goal was to reach 10 percent of the total student population, which meant 400 at Washburn. Ultimately the project garnered 471 registrations. Of those registered, the majority was achieved through class presentations, with a high of 231, following was 115 through tabling in the union and 85 through Web-based registration.

Ellis believed the success of the in-class presentations was because there was a trapped audience.

When doing the tabling, the risk was taken that the students would stop and talk about registering, and through e-mail there was little or no control, said Ellis.

However, simply because people registered, it does not mean they will automatically go out and vote. The next step to the nationwide program will be to track through the poll voting records to find out exactly who voted and to match the person up with the registration method.

The end goal is not just to find out which method is most effective in registering students but to also give them a desire to exercise their right to vote, said Ellis.

“Voting is a student’s voice,” said Brandon Kennedy, president of the Washburn Young Democrats. “If you don’t vote, your voice will never be heard.”

Also active in the registration process but separate from the national program, the Washburn Young Democrats used several of the same methods to register people to vote. They succeeded in fielding a total of around 50 people as well as 30 advanced ballots through tabling, registering at all of their meetings and making appearances at various political rallies to encourage voter registration.

The solution to solve voter apathy among students is to find a way to relate the issue to them, said Kennedy. He also said he realized it could be difficult to breakaway from school or work to vote. His solution was for people to fill out advanced ballots, which allow people to vote from the comfort of their own home, thus eliminating difficulties of traveling to a polling place.

While there are a large number of politicians who continually ignore the plight of the young voting adult in this country, Ellis pointed out several who are making a stand to gain control of this underutilized voting base. Politicians like Kinky Freidman are gaining popularity for their views and platforms.

Freidman is an independent running for governor of Texas. While he is currently second in the polls to his Republican opposition by only 20 points, he still believes he is going to win because of the 18- to 24-year-old vote.

Freidman addresses issues geared to the college-age voter, such as lowering the drinking age to 18, decriminalizing marijuana and creating a state-run bio-diesel agency.

Ellis believes candidates like Freidman have a legitimate shot. While they are lacking in political polls, Ellis believes the college-aged vote is also misrepresented there.

“They’re underrepresented in the polls typically because they’re telephone polls,” said Ellis. “They can’t call cell phones. They have to call ground lines, and those are usually homeowners.”

While this is a problem, Ellis believes it can and will change soon as students begin to realize the importance their vote has in choosing who they want to lead them.

“Everybody go vote!” said Ellis.